Some Other Rays

How’s this for a hackneyed-and-obvious opening: the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t going to sneak up an anyone anymore. Two division titles in three years, arguably the best front office in baseball, a 25-year old third baseman who is already one of the best players in baseball, and a farm system that continues to be one of the best around will do that. Despite their budget issues and the depature of Carl Crawford for divisional rival Boston, Tampa Bay isn’t packing it in for 2011, as exemplified the impressively affordable acquisitions of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. But it can’t all be about Evan Longoria, Damon (I hear he’s always wanted to be a Ray!), Manny, Jeremy Hellickson, and the rest. There are some less-frequently-discussed Rays who are going to have to produce in 2011 if Tampa Bay is going to make another run at the playoffs. How well (and how much) do you think these players will play in 2011?

While the recent signing of Zombie Casey Kotchman to a minor-league contract freaked out some Rays fans, Dan Johnson, also known as The Great Pumpkin, currently sits atop the first base depth chart in Tampa Bay. Full disclosure: Johnson is one of “my guys” to whom I have taken a (somewhat irrational, particularly since I am not a Rays fan) shine. He had his moments with Oakland, but got traded, spent 2009 in Japan, then raked at AAA for the Rays before coming up to the big leagues and hitting decently. Although Marcel isn’t too impressed, some of the other projections (albeit relying heavily on translations of minor-league and Japanese statistics) are pretty optimistic about Johnson’s abilities with the bat. But don’t look at those yet: what does the Wisdom of the Crowd say. How well will Johnson hit for the Rays in 2011? Will he get a fair shot?

Across the infield, Reid Brignac is finally getting the shortstop job full-time. As a young prospect, Brignac’s bat was a selling point while his chances of staying at shortstop were questioned. Although his bat plateaued in high minors, his reputation as a fielder improved. Brignac’s (occasional?) double-play partner Sean Rodriguez, who came over in the Scott Kazmir trade, might be part of an interesting platoon. It isn’t clear yet, but it may be that Rodriguez will play second only versus southpaws with Ben Zobrist in right, while against right-handed pitching Zobrist will move to second with Matt Joyce playing right-field. Joyce is another one of the younger Rays who looks to be getting more playing time this season. Brignac, Rodriguez, and Joyce have been role-players in the past, and but those roles are expanding, and how well they perform will go a long way to determining the Rays’ fate this season. What say you?

The Tampa Bay bullpen had a fair bit of turnover during the off-season, and three former Royals figure to be in the 2011 mix. Kyle Farnsworth has a bad reputation after some awful seasons a few years back, but after a rocky start, wasn’t horrible (despite still being overpaid) with the Royals. What will his role be with the Rays, and how will he respond to his return to the American League East? Farnsworth may be joined in the bullpen by another piece acquired during Kansas City’s Greatest Offseason in the History of Whatever: Juan Cruz. After his disastrous performances of 2008 and 2009, will he even make the team, and if so, will he be useful? Finally, we come to J.P. Howell, who came to Tampa Bay in one of Dayton Moore’s early trades for… wait for it… Joey Gathright. Howell was a dominating strikeout reliever in 2008 and 2009 despite having a fastball in the mid-80s. He missed all of 2010 due to injury. Will he approach his earlier level of performance? Relief pitchers tend to be the most under-projected group of players by the fans, so let’s hear from you.

Click here to enter your 2011 projections for some of the ‘other’ Rays mentioned in this post.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Kampfer
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Kampfer
5 years 6 months ago

i dont understand why matt joyce doesnt play fulltime

Brad Johnson
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Brad Johnson
5 years 6 months ago

The Rays have similarly talented depth. Their biggest strength is their ability to always have an answer to any in game problem on the 25 man roster. One of the tricks to that is to keep everyone sharp. Sure they could probably park Zobrist at 2b and Joyce in RF and get similar overall production, but by playing the matchups and keeping their players fresh with plenty of playing time, they are able to leverage an extra opportunity for a win here and there. In the AL East, this is extremely important.

JRoss
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JRoss
5 years 6 months ago

It looks like he is going to play against rightys and revise-split leftys

sweets
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sweets
5 years 6 months ago

The demise of the rays has been greatly exaggerated. They have an extremely intellegent front office that has assembled a deep, talented group that makes them uniquely suited to deal with the losses of players like Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Most other franchises would be in serious trouble losing the kind of talent the Rays lost this off season, but because of the deep field of talented players they have assembled they’re still in a position to compete.

DCN
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DCN
5 years 6 months ago

Yeah. They really made out like bandits in the Garza trade considering he was a player they had to move. That’s a hell of a prospect haul (and Garza is good, but is he THAT good?). I’m not saying it’s the Herschel Walker trade, but it does have the potential of ending up being pretty lopsided. And they at least got two draft picks when Crawford signed with Boston, and knowing Tampa that could end up pretty well for them.

Dirty Platypus
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Dirty Platypus
5 years 6 months ago

I’m really big on Dan Johnson as a sleeper, particularly in OBP leagues and/or leagues with 5 GS eligibility (where he qualifies as a third baseman). Fan projections on Pumpkin look a bit aggressive but if he really pulls it off something approaching a .360 OBP with 20 HR – and you would think that would result in decent R and RBI numbers in that lineup – he’d be pretty decent play at a weak position in deeper leagues.

CubsFan
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CubsFan
5 years 6 months ago

In addition to having a well run front office they also have a sharp field manager who knows how to get the most out of all the moving parts on the roster. I like what Tampa is doing in terms of roster versatility. Locking Manny into the DH role allows them to maximize the production from the rest of the roster by maintaining the flexibility to take advantage of platoons and individual hitter/pitcher matchups. I expect the Rays to contend in both the AL East and wild card races this season.

Giant Squid
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Giant Squid
5 years 6 months ago

I personally do not think Dan Johnson is a big downgrade from Carlos Pena. Pena’s average was atrocious. Johnson may hit a few less homers, but not enough to warrant any kind of panic in Tampa Bay. The only real loss will be defensively.

harry
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harry
5 years 6 months ago

Even defensively it could end up as a wash. Pena’s advanced fielding metrics have been all over the place during his time in Tampa..

nolan
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nolan
5 years 6 months ago

Also important is the development of John Jaso. Does he add some slugging and defensive chops or remain a homeless man’s Joe Mauer? Where does Kelly Shoppach fit with the club after his atrocious performance in game 5 of the ALDS?

Can Desmond Jennings hit? Can Reid Brignac? Dan Johnson? Heck, can Manny? Should be an interesting year for the Rays.

delv
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delv
5 years 6 months ago

Don’t forget Robinson Chirinos. His offensive stats have been on an upward swing for years. .999 OPS between AA and AAA.

anon
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anon
5 years 6 months ago

@Kampfer: Look at Joyce’s splits. He’s downright terrible against lefties. Why start him against LHP when we can play Zobrist there and Sean Rodriguez at 2B who is a stud against LHP? Zobrist’s position flexibility really opens a lot of lineup options.

The offense as a whole will be better this year for the Rays. Carlos Pena was not good last year at all… offensively or defensively. He only produced 1.0 WAR… .326 wOBA… he was awful. I can’t imagine Johnson being worse than that.

Same situation for Jason Bartlett. Terrible on both ends, 0.7 WAR. Brignac with his glove alone will produce more than that. Crawford is the only loss, and yes, it’s a big loss. But Johnny Damon is an adequate replacement, and Manny is a HUGE upgrade over the failfest that was the Rays DH staff last year (Burrell, Blalock, Aybar) if he can stay healthy. Add to that Matt Joyce will be in RF from day 1, and the offense is actually looking pretty damn good.

But you don’t lose Soriano, Benoit, Balfour, and Choate from the bullpen and recover from it. The Rays bullpen is the the big question mark, not the offense.

delv
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delv
5 years 6 months ago

Juan Cruz says hi. I can’t wait for Benoit pt. 2.

Joe P.
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Joe P.
5 years 6 months ago

I think it might be Joel Peralta playing the role of “cast-aside reliever signed for a pittance who ends up thriving” for the Rays this year.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 6 months ago

The key for Johnson is going to be mental. By that I mean to do what he does best, and be selective.

He would do well to emulate Dunn and Bautista and look for pitches in a certain zone and let everything else go by.

If he can show some power early, he’ll give pitchers a reason to nibble and that’ll work in his favor.

If he doesn’t show power, he could be in trouble. If he has a Boesch experience where he has BABIP success early that could also get him swing happy and he could hit himself back to the mean as time goes on.

He’s going to have to fight the urge to “hit himself to success” and take the walks as they come. Being on the Rays works in his favor bc they’ll keep that mantra playing in his mind.

kevinM
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kevinM
5 years 6 months ago

This website tells me that Carl Crawford was the 5th most valuable player in the AL in 2010. I’m supposed to believe that it’s not that big of a loss because of the acquisition of two players near 40 years-old? Plus, their lineup consists of some players who should be difficult to project due to the fact they don’t have multiple years or performance to look back on (Joyce, Brignac,Jaso). Dan Johnson might be able to replace the awful Carlos Pena of 2010 (big deal), but can he replace the good Pena of 2007-2009? The Rays starters 1-5 are probably the best quintet in the AL. Their bullpen is one huge question mark.

Luckily for the Rays, Andy Pettitte’s retirement closed whatever small gap there was between the Yankees and Tampa. I think the Blue Jays are going to be better than last season with 4 excellent starters. I foresee a 4 or 5 team toss-up for the AL WC.

Bob R.
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Bob R.
5 years 6 months ago

“This website tells me that Carl Crawford was the 5th most valuable player in the AL in 2010. I’m supposed to believe that it’s not that big of a loss because of the acquisition of two players near 40 years-old?”
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I think the answer to this is yes and no. It is a big deal because he was a major part of their success in 2010, and that is hard to replace.

On the other hand, it is more complicated than that. Damon and Manny do not provide the defense or speed of Crawford, but they may provide a better OBP and together probably more power as well.

Also, while he was outstanding in 2010 when the Rays won the division, he was mediocre in 2008 when they went to the World Series. The Rays do not depend on stars to win so much as they rely on depth. With the possible exception of Longoria, and even in that case his partial absence in 2008 was not devastating, no one player is irreplaceable.

I think your most telling point is that the Rays are relying on a lot of inexperienced players to step up. I agree it is hard to be confident in the future performance of Joyce, Brignac and Jaso, and I would add Sean Rodriguez, Dan Johnson and even Zobrist to that list. (In fact, I would tentatively even include Hellickson.) While each has the potential to be an asset, we are projecting from an insufficient data base to be sure.

In fact, I think there is too much stress placed on the ages of Manny and Damon. Of course each might collapse, but it is more likely we can establish a range of performance with confidence. We may assume each will perform as major leaguers. But with the others, there is a greater chance of them being unable to compete as full-timers in the majors.

S.M. Jenkins
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S.M. Jenkins
5 years 6 months ago

Your point about Carl Crawford in 2008 is a very good one.

The Rays might take a small step back in 2011 but their organization is deep all over the place. I’m still surprised that Desmond Jennings is initially blocked but Johnny Damon still has the potential to add some value so the move makes some sense.

I think that Tampa Bay still profiles as a very good defensive club & the rotation depth is strong. I seem to be the only avid baseball watcher who is still bullish on Wade Davis, but I expect said pitcher to come into his own further in 2011. Considering the assets picked up from the Cubs & the decent, low cost options accumulated, the Rays had as good an offeason as can be expected (in addition to the bevy of 2011 draft choices) after losing a player like Crawford.

Bob R.
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Bob R.
5 years 6 months ago

I am also very bullish on Davis. And although my comments make it appear I am pessimistic about the Rays in 2011, I am actually very optimistic. I am simply pointing out where I think the more serious reservations should be-on the performance of the younger players, not the older ones. Overall, I think we will see a better offensive team in 2011 than 2010, but it depends on continuing growth from at least some of those young players.

The other issue remains the uncertainty of the bullpen. I am not so much concerned about the absence of a tested closer as I am about the analogous problem in the offense, that the Rays are depending on good performance from pitchers with too small or erratic a history to project with confidence.

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